Tom Perera - W1TP

The Rochester Hamfest has always been a well attended and exciting gathering. A lot of Canadian amateurs come across the border to sell equipment. Since the Canadian dollar is quite weak, any American dollars that they can take in are worth a significant premium...

The Rochester meet is known for being an excellent place to find interesting telegraph keys... This year, however, so many serious key collectors showed up that there were actually more collectors than keys-for-sale......

I had vowed to rest up after Dayton and save my energy for the huge Friedrichshaven hamfest in late June. By midweek, however, I was experiencing severe hamfest-withdrawal symptoms, and I decided that I couldn't resist going to Rochester...

I arrived on Thursday afternoon after a 5.5 hr. drive and staked out a nice central location. I saved a string of spaces so that my long-time friend
John Kakstys, W2FNT could set up next to me. He will be 80 this year and I like to be close-by to help him lift some of the heavy equipment that he still brings to sell at just about every hamfest in the Northeast... He is truly amazing and did all of Dayton, Rochester, and the other major hamfests with the broken arm you can see in the picture...

John was first licensed in the mid 1930's and copied the press wireless at 50 wpm during WWII so we sit around his little butane stove and eat canned ravioli and listen to his stories long after the crowds have gone home... A lot of other ham/vendors stop by and share their stories with us. This time a man who had been in the German Luftwaffe and then the American Air Force during WWII told us about some of his wartime experiences as a member of the Hitler Youth, as an American prisoner of war, and finally as a member of the American Armed forces...

There's an entire sub-culture of vendors that most hamfest attendees never know about. Most people go back to their hotel rooms at 4PM and eat or party while we are having the real fun...hi

John unrolls a sleeping bag right onto the hard floor of his van and sleeps through the night while I am trying to get comfortable enough to sleep on an air mattress in the back of my station wagon...

A few other collectors began showing up in the late afternoon. Tom French and Brad Wilson set up a table with a few common keys and lots of books.

By 5:30AM Friday, I was out on a fruitless hunt for keys. People started setting up around 6AM but absolutely no keys surfaced all day... Lots of other collectors began arriving during the morning... John Casale began his persistent hunt for Phelps apparatus. Gerry Maira began hunting in earnest. Joel Kosoff and his wife set up a table with the
UGLIEST bug I have ever seen for sale for $10.
If he were to bring it to Dayton next year, he would be a sure winner of my "Ugliest Bug at Dayton" contest...

By midday, well over a dozen serious collectors and another dozen wanna-be's were prowling the rows asking every vendor whether they had any keys for sale. One man answered my inquiry by saying "HEY ! What's going ON here ??? You are at least the sixth person who has asked me whether I have any keys ???!!!"

Perhaps out of sheer frustration, one collector came over to my table and bought a nice old Vibroplex. Sales of "Collector's Guides" were slow but steady...and by the time the serious thunderstorms arrived around noon, people were really fed up and discouraged. Most quit early to get a good rest for what they hoped would be a promising Saturday...

I had picked up some kind of stomach bug and was seriously considering driving home but I decided to go to sleep at 6PM and hope that 10 hours of sleep would give me the energy to run around on Saturday...

At 5:01 on Saturday, the bug was gone and I had set up my tables and ordered my "Breakfast Sandwich" and coffee from a sleepy-eyed vendor. At 5:30 my flashlight picked out a box with a sign on it which read:
Code Practice Machine & Tapes I was sure what I would find when I opened the box... It would be just another Instructograph...and I almost walked-on-by... but I thought I had better just take a teeny little peek inside the box and to my amazement, I found one of the most interesting pieces of telegraphica that I have come across this year...

The box contained
a complete British manual telegraph tape-making and high speed sending system AND 7 historic tapes which contain messages sent by radiotelegraph stations in the 1930's

The tape punch was made by H. W. Sullivan... London, E.C. The three keys punch dots, dashes, and spaces into the paper tape.

The high speed reader is driven by an electric motor with a belt-drive to the reader mechanism. The speed is changed by selecting from the 10 different sized pulleys.
The tapes are time-stamped and pencil-marked:
WCG 1:42AM 11/12/36
WIY 10:33PM 11/2/36
WKJ 9:50PM 10/31/36
WEG 9:28PM 11/11/36
...and there are several other unmarked tapes...

They are contained in a box from RCA VICTOR DIVISION of Radio Corporation of America. 415 S. Fifth Street., Harrison, NJ addressed to: Lester C. Barlow, R. E. USNR. Class 11-43A, Radio Materiel School, Naval Reseach Labs, Washington, D.C. postmarked August 27, 1943.

The electric motor driven tape reader mechanism.

Closeup of the tape reader mechanism.

The British manual tape punch.

Closeup of the punch mechanism of the manual tape punch.

The bottom of the British tape punch.

The rolls of punched tape.

Despite furious searching and constant badgering of new set-ups, no unusual or interesting keys showed up... In fact, there were less keys for sale than there were collectors.

One collector decided to spice up the day by pulling out a
COPE bug. It was not for sale, of course, but it was nice to see such a rare key in such a vacuum of other keys.

Probably out of pure frustration, a few collectors bought keys from other collectors and one even bought Joel's "Ugliest key" (probably to enter into the "Ugliest-Key-at-Dayton" Contest).

I left at noon and, as far as I know there were no other interesting finds... For Tony, who usually makes the long trip to this hamfest, it was a VERY good year to skip...

73 Tom - W1TP